‘I’ll wait here,’ Isaac said, releasing Tilly’s hand, and she kissed him on the cheek and climbed from the car.
She walked up the path towards the front door of the house where she’d lived for a year as a child, recalling how her father’s family lived nearby - how her mother refused to let her seen them. In fact, she’d only ever seen them once, at Carrie’s wedding.
Her mother had been away at an audition that day. She’d forbidden Tilly from going, but her father had told her to put on her best dress - that they were going. Tilly would have normally argued, refused to go for her mother’s sake, but she’d so wanted to see Carrie get married.
Carrie had looked so pretty, and Tilly’s heart had danced with happiness. At the reception, everyone had been kind to Tilly, and Tilly had eventually opened up to them. She’d loved Granny Gertie, who had tried to show her how to knit. And she’d danced in her socked feet to ‘The Wild Side of Life’ with Carrie, Gus and June, feeling like she’d burst with joy.
It was just as Carrie’s mum handed her a slice of cake, that Arabella turned up and dragged Tilly from the wedding, causing a dreadful scene, making her cry.
Now, as Tilly rang the doorbell of her father’s house, she began to wonder how different her childhood could have been, had she known the truth.
The door opened.
‘Tilly!’ Stephen said, eyes brightening. He raised his arms as though to hug her, but quickly dropped them, smile fading. ‘It’s good to see you.’
‘Hi, Dad,’ she said, trying the word out for size. It felt OK on her tongue, and bounced around her head before settling comfortably. ‘I thought, maybe it’s time….’
His face lightened. ‘Time?’ he said, his tone hopeful.
‘Well if it’s OK with you,’ she said, psyching herself up to hug him, her heart thudding against her ribs. ‘I think it’s time we got to know each other.’
‘It went well,’ Tilly said, getting into the car. Her eyes were red-rimmed but shining, a smile dancing on her lips. ‘We have a long way to go, but I hope we can make it work.’ Her smile grew wider. ‘Carrie will be pleased,’ she added. ‘Hey, maybe there is such a thing as happy ever after.’
I started the engine, all set to pull away. Happy their meeting had gone well.
She clipped her seatbelt on. ‘I told him I’d been in Phototime,’ she said. ‘How I’d been Blossom for a whole five minutes.’
‘Blossom?’ My heart thumped.
‘Didn’t I say?’
‘No, you definitely didn’t say.’ I tried to hide my shock. Stephen was her father after all, and Carrie her sister. ‘I didn’t even know you could become an animal in Phototime.’
‘It was pretty weird, I can tell you,’ she said, flashing him a grin. ‘They’re smart. Cats, I mean. Much cleverer than we give them credit for.’
‘I bet they are,’ I said, thinking of my mum’s cats, particularly Byron.
I pulled her close, relief rushing through my veins.
Everything was going to be OK.
A week later
Cillian led the way down the hill towards Suki’s caravan.
‘I thought she’d like it,’ he said, holding a six-inch figure dressed in a green and white checked outfit and a helmet.
‘I’ll have you know, this is Brave Sir Robin.’
‘Brave Sir Robin?’
‘Eric Idle’s character in Monty Python and Holy Grail; her favourite. I bought it on the internet.’
As we got closer, I noticed there was no stuffed parrot on the roof of the caravan and the curtains were pulled across the window. There was a sign on the door:
To whom this may concern: ‘Always look on the bright side of life.’
Cillian looked my way, smiled, and propped the little figure of Brave Sir Robin against the door of the caravan.
‘Looks like Suki’s left the building,’ he said, face falling.
‘She has,’ came a voice from a nearby caravan. It was a man, wearing a pink dress and tiara. ‘She’s visiting family in the outback, said she’ll be back in a month.’
Cillian raised his hand. ‘Thanks Adolf,’ he said.
A year later
‘I now pronounce you man and wife.’
I leaned in and kissed Tilly, our lips lingering.
‘Whoop!’ It was Ricky. I still couldn’t believe he’d come all the way to
Australia for me – although he’d made a point of telling me Fluffy would be fine staying with his mum, as Tilly the spaniel adored him.
Tilly and I turned and smiled at the congregation. They were all there:
everyone we cared about, everyone who mattered. Well everyone who could be there, at least.
I lifted my head towards the pale blue sky above our open-air ceremony. I’m married, Dad. Who’d have thought it?
Tilly had moved to Australia. She’d sold her share of Flower Power to Jess, opened a florist’s in Brisbane, and moved in with me.
I’d proposed six months later, and after a jokey, ‘Well, I don’t know, Isaac, you are rather weird,’ she’d screamed, ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ and burst into tears.
Our wedding had a retro theme, and everyone wore pink. I’d realised fairly early on that even the very best women can be a tad obsessional about their wedding day.
And me? Well I couldn’t complain. It was turning out to be the best day of my life so far.
I had two best men: Cillian – who held it together through the ceremony, but was now sobbing happy tears into a handkerchief that Gertie had handed to him - and Ricky, bearded again, and a little overweight.
Ricky had promised not to embarrass me with his speech later on, and Cillian promised to shut him up if he did.
The bridesmaids - Jess, Carrie and her little girl, Becky, and June’s grand-daughter Ellie - were dressed in pink knee-length dresses that flared from the waist, with cream sashes, their flowers handmade by Tilly. Becky was at the toddling stage, so there'd been a fair bit of cooing by the females as she walked down the aisle, holding her mum’s hand.
And Tilly – my beautiful wife - was wearing a simple white dress that swished around her feet when she walked, and ring of blue flowers in her hair that matched her eyes. She’d never looked more stunning.
Stephen had given Tilly away, and couldn’t have looked prouder as he escorted her down the aisle. As moments went, it was pretty much perfect.
The reception was held at Molly Malone’s, which had recently been renovated. It felt appropriate somehow. And after the speeches, where Ricky was true to his word and didn’t embarrass me too much, I overheard Mum, Cillian and Stephen talking about Phototime.
‘I’m sure I could use the potion to solve some of my cases,’ Stephen was saying, not for the first time. ‘Maybe still-frame some CCTV footage?’
Cillian was shaking his head, and I noticed he was holding Mum’s hand. ‘Not a chance in hell, brother,’ he said cheerfully. ‘I live in the moment now, not in the past.’ He turned and smiled at my mum, and from the look on his face, it was obvious how much he cared about her.
He’d told me months ago he’d given up Phototime. In fact, he said he’d thrown what was left of the potion down the drain. But I couldn’t be sure.
As the evening wore on, I noticed Ricky making Carrie laugh as they drank lager and got stuck into the large cupcakes with pink fondant icing, that June had made for the wedding. As I watched, I wondered if there was a flicker of something between them. I hoped so.
‘They both like dogs,’ Tilly said, coming up behind me and seeing where my eyes had landed.
‘And cake,’ I added with a laugh.
As I leant to kiss her, the DJ’s voice boomed over the sound system, ‘It’s time for the bride and groom's first dance.’
Tilly took my hand.
‘Make some noise,’ the DJ went on, raising his voice, ‘for Mr and Mrs O’Donnell!’
The guests cheered, and I smiled. Mr and Mrs O’Donnell were my parents, my grandparents. Now they’re Tilly and me.
We walked onto the dance floor, lit by tiny white lights, like stars. I was nervous, despite taking lessons with Tilly, which, I confess, had been a bit of a fiasco at first. I certainly wasn’t about to give Brendon Cole a run for his money. But I’d improved.
As the music started, I moved Tilly around the floor to ‘Time of my life’. Everybody whooped and clapped, and I thought. Eat your heart out Patrick Swayze, and then felt guilty because he’s dead.
‘Bloody hell, Isaac, my man,’ Ricky shouted through a mouthful of cake, his arm draped round Carrie’s shoulder. ‘You never told me you could dance.’
I didn’t know myself.
As the song came to an end, little Ellie approached with her camera. ‘Smile please, tall man and ever-so pretty lady,’ she said with a chocolate-cake grin. ‘It’s photo time!’
That night, as I lay next to Tilly, I dreamed in colour.
I was standing on the edge of The Blue Mountains. The towering rocks, tinted with blues and lilacs, stretched under cloudless skies in front of me. The sun burned hot on my back. I knew, because you just know these things in dreams, that every gorge, cave and crevice belonged to me.
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